Crime

Famed for Kendall Toyota ads, he's now indicted on charges linked to deadly drug deal

As a child, Michael Gonzalez was the face of ads for Kendall Toyota. Now 17, he is accused of tampering with evidence and drug dealing.
As a child, Michael Gonzalez was the face of ads for Kendall Toyota. Now 17, he is accused of tampering with evidence and drug dealing.

The kid from the Kendall Toyota ads is now facing criminal charges for his role in a drug deal that police say left his friend shot to death outside an Aventura gym.

A Miami grand jury on Wednesday indicted 17-year-old Michael Gonzalez on charges of tampering with evidence and selling drugs. He was not charged directly with the killing of his pal, Omar Darwish, 18, who was mortally wounded during the botched drug deal on Jan. 19.

As a child, Gonzalez and his father — with their distinct Argentine Spanish accents — appeared in ubiquitous television ads for Kendall Toyota and West Kendall Toyota. With an adorable dimpled smile, Gonzalez was one of South Florida's most recognizable pitchmen, appearing on billboards, bus-bench ads and even airplane banners.

But police say that Gonzalez, as a teen, was selling drugs on the side. His involvement in the case was first reported by the Miami Herald in March. His defense attorney did not return a call for comment on Wednesday night.

Authorities say that Gonzalez arranged to sell $800 worth of marijuana oil vials to teenagers Silas Spence and Lucas Seeger, who showed up at the gym in a Mercedes with a plan to rob.

When Gonzalez got in the Mercedes, Spence handed Gonzalez a bullet. “I’m going to pay you with this,” Spence said, according to an arrest warrant. “I knew this was going to happen,” Gonzalez allegedly replied, before jumping out of the car.

According to police, Gonzalez pushed past his friend, Darwish, who was standing next to the car with a realistic-looking BB gun tucked into his waistband. The warrant said Spence yelled out “He has a gun!" before firing a single shot, fatally wounding Darwish.

Michael Gonzalez, known for his childhood role in promoting Toyota vehicles in Miami, was robbed in January. Now 17, Gonzalez remains under investigation for the alleged drug deal that led to his friend’s death.

The basis for the tampering charge: Cops say Gonzalez then dumped out the 25 marijuana oil cartridges from a Target bag onto Darwish’s body. “We have to put it on top of Omar and say it was him,” Gonzalez said, according to court documents.

Spence and Seeger were arrested and charged with armed robbery and felony murder. Gonzalez was quietly arrested earlier this month on juvenile charges. After the indictment on Wednesday, Gonzalez's case will now move to adult felony court.

Gonzalez's father, Claudio Gonzalez, was a successful salesman with Kendall Toyota before he went on to handle marketing for the dealership and its sister businesses. Throughout the mid-2000s, it was hard to escape the images of Claudio and his son flooding ads across Miami-Dade County — the elder Gonzalez even had an afternoon radio show.

Claudio Gonzalez formed his own advertising and media production company, which later contracted with Bean Automotive Group, which runs four dealerships. Bean stopped working with Claudio Gonzalez on March 1, “separate from and before we had any knowledge of the current situation with Michael,” a company spokeswoman said in March.

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